Coal is the workhorse of American power plants, providing 51% of total electricity production. Within our borders are ¼ of the world’s coal reserves and consequently more potential energy than all of the world’s known oil reserves. Unfortunately, coal is relatively “dirty” as an energy source, releasing not only CO2 but also SO2 and NOx. The latter two gases contribute to acid rain. Also, burning coal sends more CO2 per BTU energy into the atmosphere than any other fossil fuel. Oil and (even more so) natural gas produce more energy with fewer carbon emissions.
Coal is likely to continue as a staple as energy source in coming years as estimates put the longevity of its reserves at 1,000 years (Environment 212). This far exceeds the reserves for any other fossil fuel. The department of energy has realized the negative effects of some of coal’s emissions, however, and is working on programs to reduce emissions through scrubbers. For more information check out www.doe.gov.
Oil is responsible for nearly 40% of total US energy production and over 99% of transportation energy. This dependence on oil for transportation will be a national and international issue in this century as oil reserves are expected to become effectively unviable by at the latest 2100 (many projections say even earlier, around 2050), barring the discovery of large unknown reserves. The probability of finding new reserves is low, however, as 80% of current reserves were discovered before 1973.
Oil combustion results in the release of CO2 and NOx, both greenhouse and ozone depleting gases. Currently the US imports 50% of its oil at an annual cost of $94 billion as reported in 2001 (222). Given that the largest oil reserves lie in the politically volatile Middle East, the United States’ dependence on oil necessitates involvement in a violent region. As oil consumption is expected to rise as much as 100% by 2020, it is imperative that the US be on the forefront of alternative energy research for environmental, economic, and international/domestic security reasons.